You see what happens (in The Big Lebowski)

Some words about form and The Big Lebowski, which I got a chance to watch again recently…

Reviewers have often remarked on the threat of nihilism which pervades the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski: as one blogger puts it “The Big Lebowski is a movie about how nothing means anything anymore… The rich man has no money.  The kidnappers have no hostage.  The hostage isn’t even in town.  Donny’s death means nothing.” Transcoding The Big Sleep onto the terrain of George Bush Sr’s 1990s America withdraws from the plot its pay-off, corroding its teleology such that the end of each narrative strand reveals a bathetic want of significance. A damning, depressing indictment of our present condition, it would seem, when the stories we tell ourselves no longer aspire to create myths by which we might live, or offer momentary illusions of meaning in a meaningless world but cynically profit from peddling despair.

Yet to anyone who’s seen and enjoyed The Big Lebowski (fans of Lebowski Fest, for instance), this won’t sound quite right: the film exudes joy, not despair. Or rather, it might be more correct to say that against and through, around the nihilistic despair which is its black, bathetic undergirding, it threads jubilant and gleaming narrative strands. The film’s form (its drawing characters together into some semblance of plot -albeit without purpose-, having them intrude upon each other’s lives, etc) offers provisional and, yes, precarious, salvation; pitting itself against the nihilism its content supposedly articulates. The protrusion of remarkable words like “Chinaman” and “johnson” in the early exclamations of characters who are ostensibly independent of one another (in the first case, Walter and Lebowski; in the second Maude and Uli) signals the film’s constructedness and ushers form to the foreground.

This weaving together of discrete characters and narratives conforms, one might suggest, to the form of a rug or, specifically, The Dude’s rug. As the catalyst for The Big Lebowski‘s plot, it is also the film’s fulcrum, holding together the various erratic, nihilistic strands (Walter: “it really tied the room together”). It stands as the objective, intra-diegetic correlate of the film  itself and, like the flat, 2-D mandalas which are woven upon it, harkens to a upper or meta-stratum of perception.


~ by schoolboyerrors on April 4, 2012.

One Response to “You see what happens (in The Big Lebowski)”

  1. […] problem is they got the wrong guy… The Dude is not Jeff Lebowsky – the millionaire, but Jeff Lebowsky the unemployed smart-ass. After this revelation, the Chinamen pees on The Dude’s rug. And after […]

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